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Port on course to overtake sherry in the off-trade says Paul Symington

Published:  12 March, 2015

Port is set to overtake sherry in value sales in the off-trade in the next two years if current trends continue, according to Paul Symington, chairman of Symington Family Estates.

Paul SymingtonPaul SymingtonPaul Symington

He told that Port had enjoyed a particularly strong Christmas and pointed to Nielsen figures that show its market share of the fortified market has increased from 27.2% in 2013 to 27.6% in 2014 compared to sherry slipping back to 28.6% from 29.2%.

It was vital, he stressed, that Port houses build on this momentum and ensure the category remains "relevant" not only to the wine trade but to consumers.

He argued Port houses should accept and welcome the fact it remains such a seasonal purchase bought primarily for Christmas and the festive season.

Yes, it would be nice to build a stronger market around events such as Father's Day, but it cannot fight all "its battles at once," stressed Symington.

It was vital, he added, that Port did its best to own the Christmas market. Symingtons looked to play its part last Christmas with a high profile £500k advertising campaign across the Daily Mail's titles and supplements which focused in on how Port, and Cockburn's in particular, are as much a part of Christmas as a family walk or late night chat by the fire.

The campaign, he said, helped Cockburn's achieve an overall increase in market share of 20.3% from 17.5% for the year to January 2015, according to Nielsen figures. Its Special Reserve brand, the UK's number one best-selling Port saw a 26% increase in growth from 10.3% market share to 13.7%, which he conceded was also partly due to negotiated deals with key multiple retailers.

He said it will look to do a similar campaign this Christmas for Cockburn's in the national press and is and is potentially expanding it from national newspaper advertising to posters in the London Underground.

Back to the future

He was speaking the day after the Symington family had presented a "once in a lifetime" tasting in London of Cockburn's Ports dating back to 1863 to an invited audience of critics and key international buyers from around the world.

It followed a similar event held in Porto in 2012 where the Symingtons opened and shared what were the very last bottles of Cocburn's in certain vintages to a similarly internationally influential audience.

He said the events served two purposes. One they helped the Symington family better understand the heritage, the make-up and DNA of what makes a Cockburn's Port, which, in turn, will help them better understand how to make future releases.

The 2012 tasting, for example, helped them create the final blend for the 2011 vintage as it made them appreciate that dryness that was a key component in the early Cockburn's' vintages and that it needed to balance out the blend to reflect that.

"But it was also about putting Cockburn's back on the map. These are one-off, never to be repeated tastings. We will never see these wines again," stressed Symington.

The main Portuguese news channel even flew in to London to cover the event.

He said the publicity and awareness in the trade and amongst Port lovers of the quality of the 2011 vintage had really helped give the category a boost. It also brought a lot of wine merchants and key UK buyers back to Cockburn's, including the likes of Berry Bros, Lea & Sandemans, Corney & Barrow, and Justerini & Brooks who, he claimed, had not bought Cockburn's in large numbers for over 50 years.

  • · You can read an extended interview with Paul Symington in the March issue of Harpers.